Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Superior Buffy The Vampire Slayer Boxed Set For The Fans Is "The Chosen Collection!"

The Good: Funny, Clever, Good metaphor, Some decent DVD features, Moments that are truly touching. Characters!
The Bad: Some complete camp,Bottle episodes, Some lame commentaries, Often works better metaphorically
The Basics: A new packaging of the old discs offers a lone new disc for fans of Buffy The Vampire Slayer!

When it comes to television boxed set DVDs, which are the highest grossing form of entertainment in the world today believe it or not!, I have a pretty serious pet peeve. I am constantly irked by series' that release the individual seasons of a show and then release a sleeker, space-saving "Complete Series" DVD set complete with bonus features not available in the prior releases. Star Trek: The Next Generation recently did this with its 20th Anniversary boxed set (reviewed here!). Older television shows have no excuse! The series exists, it can be released as a whole series with the greatest benefits going first to the fans who want the entire series. I have no problem with bonus discs that feature additional material for those who buy the entire series in one fell swoop, but I do object to Complete Series sets doing that after loyal fans have already shelled out good money on the season by season DVD runs. I understand that when a series is on the air still, it can generate interest and revenue to release the season by season DVD boxed sets, but in such instances, I'm not a fan of series' that do not give the loyal fans everything without having to rebuy the series after the last season set is completed (it has taken the U.S. quite some time to get into the buying mode for shelling out for the big, worthwhile complete series boxed sets, so even a few years ago, there was no guarantee that sleeker issues would exist of any show!). Thus, I tend to prefer DVD series releases like The West Wing (reviewed here) over the one for Alias.

I mention this because one of the first series' to do an Alias-style "complete series" DVD release that included a bonus disc only available in the complete series set was the Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Chosen Collection DVD boxed set. In addition to including all seven seasons of previously released DVDs in a nice, compact case, the set includes a booklet that acts as an episode guide, a note from Joss Whedon, and a bonus disc that explores the entire series run of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. For those getting into the series now, years after the phenomenon, this is THE version to buy! For those who purchased the original boxed sets, upgrading to this is only going to save shelf space - the bonus disc is nice, but not worth shelling out so much money to get.

For those unfamiliar with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, this is the series that arguably made Joss Whedon a household name and bought him legions of fans who came to believe in his vision for television. This is, for the most part, a highly serialized television series that is ideal in a complete series collection because of the cross-referencing and foreshadowing elements of the series. This is a series that possesses a strong sense of knowing where it was going and it compelled its viewers to trust in that vision and rewarded them for their patience. In other words, this is a series that sets up elements and pays them off years later. In this DVD collection, the beauty of it is that one may become perfectly engrossed without the wait!

Buffy Summers, a sophomore in high school (I know, in the first season, the computer screen says she's a Senior, but two summers pass and in season three she is a Senior, so she's a sophomore when the series begins!), has the unique role of being a Slayer, a hunter whose job it is to kill vampires who walk the night. Buffy has moved to Sunnydale with a transcript that makes her appear as a troublemaker and an outsider and she seeks to start anew in Sunnydale with her now-single mother.

Unfortunately, Sunnydale is located atop the Hellmouth, a mystical pit that literally leads into Hell itself. Sunnydale is overrun by vampires at night as well as demons and other supernatural creatures. It falls to Buffy to stop them and she soon takes up her Slayer mantle and accept the destiny she possesses as something more than a simple high school girl.

Buffy does not go it alone, though. Buffy is accompanied on her many adventures by her friends and her mentor. Every Slayer has a Watcher and Buffy's is a British librarian named Giles. Giles does the research needed for Buffy to understand what she is facing and in the early years, he trains her for combat. Giles is forced to accept that Buffy has a life outside slaying and is eager to be a normal high school girl. Buffy is accompanied by her friends Xander and Willow, and her associate Cordelia. And Buffy's life becomes complicated when she falls in love with Angel, a vampire who was cursed with a soul and now works for the forces of good.

Because of living on the HellMouth, Buffy and her friends encounter vampires, witches, demons, robots and animals with supernatural abilities. As the series progresses, Buffy finds herself combating increasingly larger villains and even ends up taking on a Goddess and the source of all evil. The threats escalate from increasingly bad vampires to forces unique to the HellMouth to threats closer to home, like a paramilitary anti-supernatual squadron and its creation to a group of geeks bent on taking over Sunnydale to one of the members of Buffy's little circle turning to evil.

The thing about Buffy The Vampire Slayer is that it is almost constantly working on two levels: the literal and the metaphorical. So, for example, in the second season, Buffy becomes intimate with Angel, which unleashes his demon and turns him back to evil. In the literal sense of the show, Buffy's sexuality causes Angel to lose his soul. On a metaphorical level, the show explores the fear many young women have about the potency of their sexuality and the fear that that level of intimacy will change the relationship they have with the one that they love. Throughout the series, the show alternates between the literal demons and the metaphorical ones.

The problem sometimes comes when this is overbalanced and throws the show into a state of disharmony. The sixth season, for example, becomes brutal to watch when the metaphor is almost entirely destroyed for a realism that is harsh and devastating as love turns dangerous and angry for Buffy and another member of her group. Conversely, the fourth season is so layered in metaphor it is almost impossible to be entertained by the literal presentation of it.

And overall, the series holds up well, save with its repetitions. Anyone who sits and watches the series (and it's hard not to watch all of season 3 or seasons five through seven in one sitting!) will pick up on some annoying repetitions that play poorly upon review. Loyal viewers of the show know: spells seldom work out well and love spells make for stupidly repetitive outings. And the bottle episodes are often terrible. Seriously, episodes like the first season episode "The Witch" (featuring cheerleading tryouts and, well, a witch) are just head-shakingly bad. The problem is . . . almost every bottle episode comes back with a reference in the future. So, for example, what appears to be a pretty harmless and annoying episode called "Halloween" becomes one of the most significant episodes in the series as far as determining a direction for Xander. Similarly, episodes like "The Witch" and "The Pack" get referenced and even "The Wish," a bottle episode that explores a complete rewrite of the first season, is revisited and foreshadows a change in Willow's character. The point here is that as annoying as the bottle episodes might be, the complete series works best because of all of the cross referencing! Fortunately, this boxed set delivers!

To better understand Buffy The Vampire Slayer, it helps to understand the characters. Over the course of the series, the principle characters are:

Buffy Summers - The Slayer, she alone stands against the vampires and demons on the HellMouth, save that she is not alone. She transforms from a fairly shallow girl into a powerful weapon against evil who is constantly balancing the loneliness she feels against the need to be involved with friends and lovers. In many ways she is tormented by wanting to be a part of the world, yet discovering she is almost always kept outside normalcy,

Rupert Giles - Buffy's Watcher and mentor, he is a man whose past includes abusing magic. Giles is learned and gifted with insight, though is not all that great with understanding Buffy and her needs. While he occasionally tries for love of his own, he more often sticks to being professional and guiding Buffy into the young woman she strives to become,

Willow Rosenberg - Buffy's first real girl friend in Sunnydale, she is a bookworm and hopelessly in love with Xander. When Xander fixates on Buffy, Willow eventually moves on, falling in love with a werewolf before determining that she is a lesbian . . . and a witch. Willow has an extraordinary power as a spellcaster and this leads her to develop incredibly as a person and a partner,

Angel - A 240+ year-old vampire who falls in love with Buffy. When their love becomes tragic, his solution is to put some distance between them,

Spike - A sadistic vampire who comes to town to torment Buffy and her friends, but soon finds himself a victim of the Initiative when they capture him. Unable to harm humans, Spike begins to develop compassion,

Cordelia - Sunnydale High's resident socialite and snob, Cordelia learns early on the secret of Buffy's alternate life and despite the consequences to her social standing, finds herself aiding the group frequently,

Anya - A vengeance demon who is stripped of her powers and joins the Slayer's team because she has nothing better to do. As a result, she begins to develop a relationship with Xander that becomes important to her,

and Xander Harris - A generally good guy who is working-class and has a huge crush on Buffy, though she is not interested in him that way. Xander is basically a sidekick who assists, makes wisecracks and becomes an almost constant source of needing to be saved. He is also the most reliable ally to Buffy and one who proves his worth through the most obscure and odd ways.

The show is generally well-acted by its ensemble cast. This is a very young, good-looking bunch that includes Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia), Alyson Hannigan (Willow), Nicholas Brendan (Xander) and David Boreanaz (Angel). They play young quite well and as they develop over the course of the series, their acting talents develop quite nicely as well.

Two cast members truly stand out. The first is Anthony Head as Giles. I was familiar with Head from a short-lived series called VR.5 (reviewed here!) where he had essentially the same role. Head managed to take what is on page a role I had seen him in before and make it feel completely new. He is dignified and subtly caring as Giles and over the series, he makes what could be a very easy "type" into a role that is very distinct and distinguished.

It is Sarah Michelle Gellar, who plays Buffy, who has the biggest burden as far as acting goes. Gellar is the central star of the series and she is charged with making the whole world of Buffy believable. She performs Buffy as a young woman who is tormented by internal conflict that makes her seem quite realistic and definitely sympathetic. Gellar has a wonderful sense of body language that makes it believable when she stands up for herself or when she is feeling emotionally drained and broken. Gellar develops Buffy wonderfully from a girl into a woman over the course of the series and portrays her well throughout that transformation.

On DVD, the series looks and sounds good and the most common bonus feature is commentary tracks and deleted scenes. The commentary tracks are occasionally dated (there is a pretty terrible early episode with a commentary track where one of the producers simply repeats an advertisement for Angel over and over again and then sits and watches his episode!) but the ones with Joss Whedon are pretty insightful. It's nice to hear commentary tracks where those participating aren't just telling the viewer what is happening. There are also a decent number of featurettes that quite adequately explore the behind-the-scenes aspects of the show, including providing some wonderful tours of the sets throughout the seasons.

This set has a unique disc that explores the Buffy The Vampire Slayer phenomenon and it is worth it for the true fans who have held out on the DVD set until they can buy the whole series in one place. The interviews and perspectives that come from after the series has ended are interesting and enjoyable.

But, it's not enough to trade in your previous purchases for. This set is ideal for those coming late to the party and who like the series and want the whole thing now. Low rating has more to do with the inconsistency of the show; it's good, but varies greatly season by season.

For those interested in learning more about the specific seasons included in this boxed set, please check out my reviews of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7
and the new boxed set for Angel, the spin-off series, reviewed here!



For other television reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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